Micheline Calmy-Rey's red shoes

Political history is mostly documented on paper. Files and documents are the most important sources available to historians in their research. But how are museum curators to address this subject? A room full of files and treaties is hardly an attractive prospect and could prove a little highbrow. Although difficult to come by, politicians' personal belongings can help here. They are symbolic objects that point to an event, a key period or a significant episode in history.

The red trainers belonging to former Member of the Swiss Federal Council Micheline Calmy-Rey are one such symbolic object. The Federal Councillor wore the shoes on 20 May 2003, when she was the first member of a foreign government to cross the border between North and South Korea. It was a huge step in Switzerland's foreign policy and underlined the role the country plays as a neutral mediator in global politics.

And for our fashion-conscious readers, it is worth mentioning that the red trainers emblazoned with the white Swiss cross were made by the footwear label Bally, a former Swiss company. Micheline Calmy-Rey auctioned them off in 2004, donating the proceeds to victims of a train accident in North Korea. The iconic Bally shoes eventually made it to the Swiss National Museum, where they remain to this day.

Micheline Calmy-Rey in 2008 in the Federal Council. Photo: Ruben Wyttenbach/Ex-Press

Micheline Calmy-Rey crosses the border between North and South Korea (German). Video: SRF

Micheline Calmy-Rey wore the red Bally shoes in 2003, when she was the first member of a foreign government to cross the border between North and South Korea. Photo: Swiss National Museum

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Three museums – the National Museum Zurich, the Castle of Prangins and the Forum of Swiss History Schwyz – as well as the collections centre in Affoltern am Albis – are united under the umbrella of the Swiss National Museum (SNM). The permanent exhibitions at the museums present Swiss history from its beginnings to the present, and give an insight into Swiss identities and the rich tapestry of our country’s history and culture. Temporary exhibitions on current topics add to the experience.

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